Franz Kafka

Thursday, June 29, 2017

"The Wife" by Anton Chekhov, Full Text in English; (1898) by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, from "The Wife, and Other Stories" (translated in English by Constance Garnett)

Portrait of Anton Chekhov




I RECEIVED the following letter:


“Not far from you--that is to say, in the village of Pestrovo--very
distressing incidents are taking place, concerning which I feel it
my duty to write to you. All the peasants of that village sold their
cottages and all their belongings, and set off for the province of
Tomsk, but did not succeed in getting there, and have come back. Here,
of course, they have nothing now; everything belongs to other people.
They have settled three or four families in a hut, so that there are no
less than fifteen persons of both sexes in each hut, not counting the
young children; and the long and the short of it is, there is nothing
to eat. There is famine and there is a terrible pestilence of hunger, or
spotted, typhus; literally every one is stricken. The doctor’s assistant
says one goes into a cottage and what does one see? Every one is sick,
every one delirious, some laughing, others frantic; the huts are filthy;
there is no one to fetch them water, no one to give them a drink, and
nothing to eat but frozen potatoes. What can Sobol (our Zemstvo doctor)
and his lady assistant do when more than medicine the peasants need
bread which they have not? The District Zemstvo refuses to assist them,
on the ground that their names have been taken off the register of this
district, and that they are now reckoned as inhabitants of Tomsk; and,
besides, the Zemstvo has no money.

“Laying these facts before you, and knowing your humanity, I beg you not
to refuse immediate help.

“Your well-wisher.”

Obviously the letter was written by the doctor with the animal name* or
his lady assistant. Zemstvo doctors and their assistants go on for years
growing more and more convinced every day that they can do _nothing_,
and yet continue to receive their salaries from people who are living
upon frozen potatoes, and consider they have a right to judge whether I
am humane or not.

     *Sobol in Russian means “sable-marten.”--TRANSLATOR’S NOTE.

Worried by the anonymous letter and by the fact that peasants came every
morning to the servants’ kitchen and went down on their knees there, and
that twenty sacks of rye had been stolen at night out of the barn, the
wall having first been broken in, and by the general depression which
was fostered by conversations, newspapers, and horrible weather--worried
by all this, I worked listlessly and ineffectively. I was writing
“A History of Railways”; I had to read a great number of Russian
and foreign books, pamphlets, and articles in the magazines, to make
calculations, to refer to logarithms, to think and to write; then again
to read, calculate, and think; but as soon as I took up a book or began
to think, my thoughts were in a muddle, my eyes began blinking, I would
get up from the table with a sigh and begin walking about the big rooms
of my deserted country-house. When I was tired of walking about I would
stand still at my study window, and, looking across the wide courtyard,
over the pond and the bare young birch-trees and the great fields
covered with recently fallen, thawing snow, I saw on a low hill on the
horizon a group of mud-coloured huts from which a black muddy road ran
down in an irregular streak through the white field. That was Pestrovo,
concerning which my anonymous correspondent had written to me. If it had
not been for the crows who, foreseeing rain or snowy weather, floated
cawing over the pond and the fields, and the tapping in the carpenter’s
shed, this bit of the world about which such a fuss was being made
would have seemed like the Dead Sea; it was all so still, motionless,
lifeless, and dreary!

My uneasiness hindered me from working and concentrating myself; I did
not know what it was, and chose to believe it was disappointment. I had
actually given up my post in the Department of Ways and Communications,
and had come here into the country expressly to live in peace and
to devote myself to writing on social questions. It had long been my
cherished dream. And now I had to say good-bye both to peace and to
literature, to give up everything and think only of the peasants. And
that was inevitable, because I was convinced that there was absolutely
nobody in the district except me to help the starving. The people
surrounding me were uneducated, unintellectual, callous, for the most
part dishonest, or if they were honest, they were unreasonable and
unpractical like my wife, for instance. It was impossible to rely on
such people, it was impossible to leave the peasants to their fate, so
that the only thing left to do was to submit to necessity and see to
setting the peasants to rights myself.

I began by making up my mind to give five thousand roubles to the
assistance of the starving peasants. And that did not decrease, but only
aggravated my uneasiness. As I stood by the window or walked about
the rooms I was tormented by the question which had not occurred to me
before: how this money was to be spent. To have bread bought and to go
from hut to hut distributing it was more than one man could do, to say
nothing of the risk that in your haste you might give twice as much to
one who was well-fed or to one who was making money out of his fellows
as to the hungry. I had no faith in the local officials. All these
district captains and tax inspectors were young men, and I distrusted
them as I do all young people of today, who are materialistic and
without ideals. The District Zemstvo, the Peasant Courts, and all the
local institutions, inspired in me not the slightest desire to appeal to
them for assistance. I knew that all these institutions who were busily
engaged in picking out plums from the Zemstvo and the Government pie
had their mouths always wide open for a bite at any other pie that might
turn up.

The idea occurred to me to invite the neighbouring landowners and
suggest to them to organize in my house something like a committee or
a centre to which all subscriptions could be forwarded, and from
which assistance and instructions could be distributed throughout the
district; such an organization, which would render possible frequent
consultations and free control on a big scale, would completely meet
my views. But I imagined the lunches, the dinners, the suppers and the
noise, the waste of time, the verbosity and the bad taste which that
mixed provincial company would inevitably bring into my house, and I
made haste to reject my idea.

As for the members of my own household, the last thing I could look
for was help or support from them. Of my father’s household, of the
household of my childhood, once a big and noisy family, no one remained
but the governess Mademoiselle Marie, or, as she was now called, Marya
Gerasimovna, an absolutely insignificant person. She was a precise
little old lady of seventy, who wore a light grey dress and a cap with
white ribbons, and looked like a china doll. She always sat in the
drawing-room reading.

Whenever I passed by her, she would say, knowing the reason for my

“What can you expect, Pasha? I told you how it would be before. You can
judge from our servants.”

My wife, Natalya Gavrilovna, lived on the lower storey, all the rooms of
which she occupied. She slept, had her meals, and received her visitors
downstairs in her own rooms, and took not the slightest interest in how
I dined, or slept, or whom I saw. Our relations with one another were
simple and not strained, but cold, empty, and dreary as relations are
between people who have been so long estranged, that even living under
the same roof gives no semblance of nearness. There was no trace now of
the passionate and tormenting love--at one time sweet, at another bitter
as wormwood--which I had once felt for Natalya Gavrilovna. There
was nothing left, either, of the outbursts of the past--the loud
altercations, upbraidings, complaints, and gusts of hatred which had
usually ended in my wife’s going abroad or to her own people, and in my
sending money in small but frequent instalments that I might sting her
pride oftener. (My proud and sensitive wife and her family live at my
expense, and much as she would have liked to do so, my wife could not
refuse my money: that afforded me satisfaction and was one comfort in
my sorrow.) Now when we chanced to meet in the corridor downstairs or in
the yard, I bowed, she smiled graciously. We spoke of the weather, said
that it seemed time to put in the double windows, and that some one with
bells on their harness had driven over the dam. And at such times I read
in her face: “I am faithful to you and am not disgracing your good name
which you think so much about; you are sensible and do not worry me; we
are quits.”

I assured myself that my love had died long ago, that I was too much
absorbed in my work to think seriously of my relations with my wife.
But, alas! that was only what I imagined. When my wife talked aloud
downstairs I listened intently to her voice, though I could not
distinguish one word. When she played the piano downstairs I stood up
and listened. When her carriage or her saddlehorse was brought to the
door, I went to the window and waited to see her out of the house; then
I watched her get into her carriage or mount her horse and ride out of
the yard. I felt that there was something wrong with me, and was afraid
the expression of my eyes or my face might betray me. I looked after my
wife and then watched for her to come back that I might see again
from the window her face, her shoulders, her fur coat, her hat. I felt
dreary, sad, infinitely regretful, and felt inclined in her absence to
walk through her rooms, and longed that the problem that my wife and
I had not been able to solve because our characters were incompatible,
should solve itself in the natural way as soon as possible--that is,
that this beautiful woman of twenty-seven might make haste and grow old,
and that my head might be grey and bald.

One day at lunch my bailiff informed me that the Pestrovo peasants
had begun to pull the thatch off the roofs to feed their cattle. Marya
Gerasimovna looked at me in alarm and perplexity.

“What can I do?” I said to her. “One cannot fight single-handed, and I
have never experienced such loneliness as I do now. I would give a great
deal to find one man in the whole province on whom I could rely.”

“Invite Ivan Ivanitch,” said Marya Gerasimovna.

“To be sure!” I thought, delighted. “That is an idea! _C’est raison_,”
 I hummed, going to my study to write to Ivan Ivanitch. “_C’est raison,
c’est raison_.”


Of all the mass of acquaintances who, in this house twenty-five to
thirty-five years ago, had eaten, drunk, masqueraded, fallen in love,
married, bored us with accounts of their splendid packs of hounds and
horses, the only one still living was Ivan Ivanitch Bragin. At one time
he had been very active, talkative, noisy, and given to falling in love,
and had been famous for his extreme views and for the peculiar charm of
his face, which fascinated men as well as women; now he was an old man,
had grown corpulent, and was living out his days with neither views nor
charm. He came the day after getting my letter, in the evening just
as the samovar was brought into the dining-room and little Marya
Gerasimovna had begun slicing the lemon.

“I am very glad to see you, my dear fellow,” I said gaily, meeting him.
“Why, you are stouter than ever....”

“It isn’t getting stout; it’s swelling,” he answered. “The bees must
have stung me.”

With the familiarity of a man laughing at his own fatness, he put his
arms round my waist and laid on my breast his big soft head, with the
hair combed down on the forehead like a Little Russian’s, and went off
into a thin, aged laugh.

“And you go on getting younger,” he said through his laugh. “I wonder
what dye you use for your hair and beard; you might let me have some of
it.” Sniffing and gasping, he embraced me and kissed me on the cheek.
“You might give me some of it,” he repeated. “Why, you are not forty,
are you?”

“Alas, I am forty-six!” I said, laughing.

Ivan Ivanitch smelt of tallow candles and cooking, and that suited him.
His big, puffy, slow-moving body was swathed in a long frock-coat like a
coachman’s full coat, with a high waist, and with hooks and eyes
instead of buttons, and it would have been strange if he had smelt of
eau-de-Cologne, for instance. In his long, unshaven, bluish double chin,
which looked like a thistle, his goggle eyes, his shortness of breath,
and in the whole of his clumsy, slovenly figure, in his voice, his
laugh, and his words, it was difficult to recognize the graceful,
interesting talker who used in old days to make the husbands of the
district jealous on account of their wives.

“I am in great need of your assistance, my friend,” I said, when we were
sitting in the dining-room, drinking tea. “I want to organize relief for
the starving peasants, and I don’t know how to set about it. So perhaps
you will be so kind as to advise me.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” said Ivan Ivanitch, sighing. “To be sure, to be sure,
to be sure....”

“I would not have worried you, my dear fellow, but really there is no
one here but you I can appeal to. You know what people are like about

“To be sure, to be sure, to be sure.... Yes.”

I thought that as we were going to have a serious, business consultation
in which any one might take part, regardless of their position or
personal relations, why should I not invite Natalya Gavrilovna.

“_Tres faciunt collegium_,” I said gaily. “What if we were to ask
Natalya Gavrilovna? What do you think? Fenya,” I said, turning to the
maid, “ask Natalya Gavrilovna to come upstairs to us, if possible at
once. Tell her it’s a very important matter.”

Thursday, June 22, 2017

"Schakale und Araber, Jackals and Arabs" by Franz Kafka: English version. "Schakale und Araber, Jackals and Arabs" by Franz Kafka, translated in English, with Original Text in German


Franz Kafka at age 5  (1888)

The following is an excerpt from "The Tales of Franz Kafka: English Translation With Original Text In German," available as e-book on Amazon KindleiPhone, iPad, or iPod touchon NOOK Bookon Kobo, and as printed, traditional edition through Lulu.  

Jackals and Arabs

"...We were camping in the oasis. My companions were asleep. An Arab, tall and white, went past me; he had tended to his camels and was going to his sleeping place.
I threw myself on my back on the grass; I wanted to sleep; I couldn’t; the howling of a jackal in the distance; I sat up straight again. And what had been so far away was suddenly close by. A multitude of jackals around me; their eyes flashing dull gold and then extinguishing; lean bodies moving in a nimble, coordinated manner, as if responding to a whip.
One of them came from behind, pushed himself under my arm, right against me, as if it needed my warmth, then stepped in front of me and spoke, almost eye to eye with me:
“I’m the oldest jackal far and wide. I’m happy that I’m still able to welcome you here. I had almost given up hope, for we’ve been waiting for you an infinitely long time. My mother waited, and her mother, and all her mothers, right back to the mother of all jackals. Believe it!”

“That surprises me,” I said, forgetting to light the pile of wood which laid ready to keep the jackals away with its smoke, “That surprises me to hear. Only by chance I’ve come from the high north and I meant to be just in a short trip. What do you jackals want then?”
As if encouraged by this, perhaps too friendly, conversation they drew their circle more closely around me, all of them panting and snarling.
“We know,” the oldest began, “that you come from the north, and on that alone rests our hope. In the north there is a way of understanding things, that one cannot find here among the Arabs. From their cool arrogance, you know, one cannot beat a spark of common sense. They kill animals to eat them, and they disregard the carcasses.”
“Don’t speak so loud,” I said, “there are Arabs sleeping close by.”
“You really are a stranger,” said the jackal, “otherwise you would know that throughout the history of the world a jackal has never yet feared an Arab. Should we fear them? Is it not misfortune enough that we have been outcasted under such people?”
“Maybe, maybe,” I said. “I’m not up to judging things which are so far from me; it seems to be a very old fight; it’s probably in the blood and so, perhaps, will only end with blood.”
“You are very clever,” said the old jackal; and they all breathed even more quickly, with harried lungs, although they were standing still; a bitter smell, which I could temporarily bear only by clenching my teeth, emanated from their open mouths. “You are very clever. What you said corresponds to our ancient doctrine. So we take their blood, and the fight is over.”
“Oh,” I said, in a wilder manner than I intended, “they’ll defend themselves. They’ll shoot you down in droves with their guns.” “You misunderstand us,” he said, “a trait of human beings which has not disappeared, not even in the high north. We are not going to kill them. The Nile does not have enough water to wash us clean. At the mere sight of their living bodies, we immediately run away into cleaner air, into the desert, that is therefore our home.”
 All the jackals around, including many more that in the meantime had joined coming from afar, lowered their heads between the forelegs and wiped them with their paws; it was as if they wanted to conceal an aversion, which was so dreadful that I would have much preferred to escape beyond their circle with a high jump.

 “So what do you intend to do?” I asked. I wanted to stand up, but I couldn’t; two young animals were holding me firmly from behind, biting my jacket and shirt. I had to remain seated. “They are holding your train,” said the old jackal seriously, by way of explanation, “a sign of respect.”
 “They should let me go,” I cried out, turning now to the old one, now to the young ones. “They will, of course,” said the old one, “if that’s what you ask. But it will take a little while, for, as is our habit, they have dug in their teeth deep and must disengage their bites gradually. Meanwhile, listen to our prayer.” “Your conduct has not made me very receptive to it,” I said. “Don’t make us pay for our clumsiness,” he said, and now for the first time he brought the wailing tone of his natural voice to his assistance. “We are poor animals, all we have is our teeth; for everything we want to do, the good and the bad, only our teeth we have.” “So what do you want?” I asked, only slightly appeased.
“Sir,” he cried, and all the jackals howled; very remotely it sounded to me like a melody.
 “Sir, you should end the fight which divides the world..."

Schakale und Araber

Wir lagerten in der Oase. Die Gefährten schliefen. Ein Araber, hoch und weiß, kam an mir vorüber; er hatte die Kamele versorgt und ging zum Schlafplatz.
Ich warf mich rücklings ins Gras; ich wollte schlafen; ich konnte nicht; das Klagegeheul eines Schakals in der Ferne; ich saß wieder aufrecht. Und was so weit gewesen war, war plötzlich nah. Ein Gewimmel von Schakalen um mich her; in mattem Gold erglänzende, verlöschende Augen; schlanke Leiber, wie unter einer Peitsche gesetzmäßig und flink bewegt.
Einer kam von rückwärts, drängte sich, unter meinem Arm durch, eng an mich, als brauche er meine Wärme, trat dann vor mich und sprach, fast Aug in Aug mit mir:
»Ich bin der älteste Schakal, weit und breit. Ich bin glücklich, dich noch hier begrüßen zu können. Ich hatte schon die Hoffnung fast aufgegeben, denn wir warten unendlich lange auf dich; meine Mutter hat gewartet und ihre Mutter und weiter alle ihre Mütter bis hinauf zur Mutter aller Schakale. Glaube es!«
»Das wundert mich«, sagte ich und vergaß, den Holzstoß anzuzünden, der bereitlag, um mit seinem Rauch die Schakale abzuhalten, »das wundert mich sehr zu hören. Nur zufällig komme ich aus dem hohen Norden und bin auf einer kurzen Reise begriffen. Was wollt ihr denn, Schakale?«
Und wie ermutigt durch diesen vielleicht allzu freundlichen Zuspruch zogen sie ihren Kreis enger um mich; alle atmeten kurz und fauchend.
»Wir wissen«, begann der Älteste, »daß du vom Norden kommst, darauf eben baut sich unsere Hoffnung. Dort ist der Verstand, der hier unter den Arabern nicht zu finden ist. Aus diesem kalten Hochmut, weißt du, ist kein Funken Verstand zu schlagen. Sie töten Tiere, um sie zu fressen, und Aas mißachten sie.«
»Rede nicht so laut«, sagte ich, »es schlafen Araber in der Nähe.«
»Du bist wirklich ein Fremder«, sagte der Schakal, »sonst wüßtest du, daß noch niemals in der Weltgeschichte ein Schakal einen Araber gefürchtet hat. Fürchten sollten wir sie? Ist es nicht Unglück genug, daß wir unter solches Volk verstoßen sind?«
»Mag sein, mag sein«, sagte ich, »ich maße mir kein Urteil an in Dingen, die mir so fern liegen; es scheint ein sehr alter Streit; liegt also wohl im Blut; wird also vielleicht erst mit dem Blute enden.«
»Du bist sehr klug«, sagte der alte Schakal; und alle atmeten noch schneller; mit gehetzten Lungen, trotzdem sie doch stillestanden; ein bitterer, zeitweilig nur mit zusammengeklemmten Zähnen erträglicher Geruch entströmte den offenen Mäulern, »du bist sehr klug; das, was du sagst, entspricht unserer alten Lehre. Wir nehmen ihnen also ihr Blut und der Streit ist zu Ende.«
»Oh!« sagte ich wilder, als ich wollte, »sie werden sich wehren; sie werden mit ihren Flinten euch rudelweise niederschießen.«
»Du mißverstehst uns«, sagte er,»nach Menschenart, die sich also auch im hohen Norden nicht verliert. Wir werden sie doch nicht töten. So viel Wasser hätte der Nil nicht, um uns rein zu waschen. Wir laufen doch schon vor dem bloßen Anblick ihres lebenden Leibes weg, in reinere Luft, in die Wüste, die deshalb unsere Heimat ist.«
Und alle Schakale ringsum, zu denen inzwischen noch viele von fern her gekommen waren, senkten die Köpfe zwischen die Vorderbeine und putzten sie mit den Pfoten; es war, als wollten sie einen Widerwillen verbergen, der so schrecklich war, daß ich am liebsten mit einem hohen Sprung aus ihrem Kreis entflohen wäre.
»Was beabsichtigt ihr also zu tun?« fragte ich und wollte aufstehn; aber ich konnte nicht; zwei junge Tiere hatten sich mir hinten in Rock und Hemd festgebissen; ich mußte sitzenbleiben. »Sie halten deine Schleppe«, sagte der alte Schakal erklärend und ernsthaft, »eine Ehrbezeigung.« »Sie sollen mich loslassen!« rief ich, bald zum Alten, bald zu den Jungen gewendet. »Sie werden es natürlich«, sagte der Alte, »wenn du es verlangst. Es dauert aber ein Weilchen, denn sie haben nach der Sitte tief sich eingebissen und müssen erst langsam die Gebisse voneinander lösen. Inzwischen höre unsere Bitte.« »Euer Verhalten hat mich dafür nicht sehr empfänglich gemacht«, sagte ich. »Laß uns unser Ungeschick nicht entgelten«, sagte er und nahm jetzt zum erstenmal den Klageton seiner natürlichen Stimme zu Hilfe, »wir sind arme Tiere, wir haben nur das Gebiß; für alles, was wir tun wollen, das Gute und das Schlechte, bleibt uns einzig das Gebiß.« »Was willst du also?« fragte ich, nur wenig besänftigt.
»Herr« rief er, und alle Schakale heulten auf; in fernster Ferne schien es mir eine Melodie zu sein. »Herr, du sollst den Streit beenden, der die Welt entzweit. So wie du bist, haben unsere Alten den beschrieben, der es tun wird. Frieden müssen wir haben von den Arabern; atembare Luft; gereinigt von ihnen den Ausblick rund am Horizont; kein Klagegeschrei eines Hammels, den der Araber absticht; ruhig soll alles Getier krepieren; ungestört soll es von uns leergetrunken und bis auf die Knochen gereinigt werden. Reinheit, nichts als Reinheit wollen wir«, – und nun weinten, schluchzten alle – »wie erträgst nur du es in dieser Welt, du edles Herz und süßes Eingeweide? Schmutz ist ihr Weiß; Schmutz ist ihr Schwarz; ein Grauen ist ihr Bart; speien muß man beim Anblick ihrer Augenwinkel; und heben sie den Arm, tut sich in der Achselhöhle die Hölle auf. Darum, o Herr, darum, o teuerer Herr, mit Hilfe deiner alles vermögenden Hände, mit Hilfe deiner alles vermögenden Hände schneide ihnen mit dieser Schere die Hälse durch!« Und einem Ruck seines Kopfes folgend kam ein Schakal herbei, der an einem Eckzahn eine kleine, mit altem Rost bedeckte Nähschere trug.
»Also endlich die Schere und damit Schluß!« rief der Araberführer unserer Karawane, der sich gegen den Wind an uns herangeschlichen hatte und nun seine riesige Peitsche schwang.
Alles verlief sich eiligst, aber in einiger Entfernung blieben sie doch, eng zusammengekauert, die vielen Tiere so eng und starr, daß es aussah wie eine schmale Hürde, von Irrlichtern umflogen.
»So hast du, Herr, auch dieses Schauspiel gesehen und gehört«, sagte der Araber und lachte so fröhlich, als es die Zurückhaltung seines Stammes erlaubte. »Du weißt also, was die Tiere wollen?« fragte ich. »Natürlich, Herr«, sagte er, »das ist doch allbekannt; solange es Araber gibt, wandert diese Schere durch die Wüste und wird mit uns wandern bis ans Ende der Tage. Jedem Europäer wird sie angeboten zu dem großen Werk; jeder Europäer ist gerade derjenige, welcher ihnen berufen scheint. Eine unsinnige Hoffnung haben diese Tiere; Narren, wahre Narren sind sie. Wir lieben sie deshalb; es sind unsere Hunde; schöner als die eurigen. Sieh nur, ein Kamel ist in der Nacht verendet, ich habe es herschaffen lassen.«
Vier Träger kamen und warfen den schweren Kadaver vor uns hin. Kaum lag er da, erhoben die Schakale ihre Stimmen. Wie von Stricken unwiderstehlich jeder einzelne gezogen, kamen sie, stockend, mit dem Leib den Boden streifend, heran. Sie hatten die Araber vergessen, den Haß vergessen, die alles auslöschende Gegenwart des stark ausdunstenden Leichnams bezauberte sie. Schon hing einer am Hals und fand mit dem ersten Biß die Schlagader. Wie eine kleine rasende Pumpe, die ebenso unbedingt wie aussichtslos einen übermächtigen Brand löschen will, zerrte und zuckte jede Muskel seines Körpers an ihrem Platz. Und schon lagen in gleicher Arbeit alle auf dem Leichnam hoch zu Berg.
Da strich der Führer kräftig mit der scharfen Peitsche kreuz und quer über sie. Sie hoben die Köpfe; halb in Rausch und Ohnmacht; sahen die Araber vor sich stehen; bekamen jetzt die Peitsche mit den Schnauzen zu fühlen; zogen sich im Sprung zurück und liefen eine Strecke rückwärts. Aber das Blut des Kamels lag schon in Lachen da, rauchte empor, der Körper war an mehreren Stellen weit aufgerissen. Sie konnten nicht widerstehen; wieder waren sie da; wieder hob der Führer die Peitsche; ich faßte seinen Arm. »Du hast recht, Herr«, sagte er, »wir lassen sie bei ihrem Beruf, auch ist es Zeit aufzubrechen. Gesehen hast du sie. Wunderbare Tiere, nicht wahr? Und wie sie uns hassen!«

Sunday, June 18, 2017

"A Peculiar Man" (Russian: Необыкновенный) by Anton Chekhov, Full Text in English; (1886) by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, from "The Schoolmaster and Other Stories" (translated in Englishby Constance Garnett)

Portrait of Chekhov by Isaak Levitan 1886


Between twelve and one at night a tall gentleman, wearing a top-hat
and a coat with a hood, stops before the door of Marya Petrovna
Koshkin, a midwife and an old maid. Neither face nor hand can be
distinguished in the autumn darkness, but in the very manner of his
coughing and the ringing of the bell a certain solidity, positiveness,
and even impressiveness can be discerned. After the third ring the
door opens and Marya Petrovna herself appears. She has a man's
overcoat flung on over her white petticoat. The little lamp with
the green shade which she holds in her hand throws a greenish light
over her sleepy, freckled face, her scraggy neck, and the lank,
reddish hair that strays from under her cap.

"Can I see the midwife?" asks the gentleman.

"I am the midwife. What do you want?"

The gentleman walks into the entry and Marya Petrovna sees facing
her a tall, well-made man, no longer young, but with a handsome,
severe face and bushy whiskers.

"I am a collegiate assessor, my name is Kiryakov," he says. "I came
to fetch you to my wife. Only please make haste."

"Very good . . ." the midwife assents. "I'll dress at once, and I
must trouble you to wait for me in the parlour."

Kiryakov takes off his overcoat and goes into the parlour. The
greenish light of the lamp lies sparsely on the cheap furniture in
patched white covers, on the pitiful flowers and the posts on which
ivy is trained. . . . There is a smell of geranium and carbolic.
The little clock on the wall ticks timidly, as though abashed at
the presence of a strange man.

"I am ready," says Marya Petrovna, coming into the room five minutes
later, dressed, washed, and ready for action. "Let us go."

"Yes, you must make haste," says Kiryakov. "And, by the way, it is
not out of place to enquire--what do you ask for your services?"

"I really don't know . . ." says Marya Petrovna with an embarrassed
smile. "As much as you will give."

"No, I don't like that," says Kiryakov, looking coldly and steadily
at the midwife. "An arrangement beforehand is best. I don't want
to take advantage of you and you don't want to take advantage of
me. To avoid misunderstandings it is more sensible for us to make
an arrangement beforehand."

"I really don't know--there is no fixed price."

"I work myself and am accustomed to respect the work of others. I
don't like injustice. It will be equally unpleasant to me if I pay
you too little, or if you demand from me too much, and so I insist
on your naming your charge."

"Well, there are such different charges."

"H'm. In view of your hesitation, which I fail to understand, I am
constrained to fix the sum myself. I can give you two roubles."

"Good gracious! . . . Upon my word! . . ." says Marya Petrovna,
turning crimson and stepping back. "I am really ashamed. Rather
than take two roubles I will come for nothing . . . . Five roubles,
if you like."

"Two roubles, not a kopeck more. I don't want to take advantage of
you, but I do not intend to be overcharged."

"As you please, but I am not coming for two roubles. . . ."

"But by law you have not the right to refuse."

"Very well, I will come for nothing."

"I won't have you for nothing. All work ought to receive remuneration.
I work myself and I understand that. . . ."

"I won't come for two roubles," Marya Petrovna answers mildly. "I'll
come for nothing if you like."

"In that case I regret that I have troubled you for nothing. . . .
I have the honour to wish you good-bye."

"Well, you are a man!" says Marya Petrovna, seeing him into the
entry. "I will come for three roubles if that will satisfy you."

Kiryakov frowns and ponders for two full minutes, looking with
concentration on the floor, then he says resolutely, "No," and goes
out into the street. The astonished and disconcerted midwife fastens
the door after him and goes back into her bedroom.

"He's good-looking, respectable, but how queer, God bless the man!
. . ." she thinks as she gets into bed.

But in less than half an hour she hears another ring; she gets up
and sees the same Kiryakov again.

"Extraordinary the way things are mismanaged. Neither the chemist,
nor the police, nor the house-porters can give me the address of a
midwife, and so I am under the necessity of assenting to your terms.
I will give you three roubles, but . . . I warn you beforehand that
when I engage servants or receive any kind of services, I make an
arrangement beforehand in order that when I pay there may be no
talk of extras, tips, or anything of the sort. Everyone ought to
receive what is his due."

Marya Petrovna has not listened to Kiryakov for long, but already
she feels that she is bored and repelled by him, that his even,
measured speech lies like a weight on her soul. She dresses and
goes out into the street with him. The air is still but cold, and
the sky is so overcast that the light of the street lamps is hardly
visible. The sloshy snow squelches under their feet. The midwife
looks intently but does not see a cab.

"I suppose it is not far?" she asks.

"No, not far," Kiryakov answers grimly.

They walk down one turning, a second, a third. . . . Kiryakov strides
along, and even in his step his respectability and positiveness is

"What awful weather!" the midwife observes to him.

But he preserves a dignified silence, and it is noticeable that he
tries to step on the smooth stones to avoid spoiling his goloshes.
At last after a long walk the midwife steps into the entry; from
which she can see a big decently furnished drawing-room. There is
not a soul in the rooms, even in the bedroom where the woman is
lying in labour. . . . The old women and relations who flock in
crowds to every confinement are not to be seen. The cook rushes
about alone, with a scared and vacant face. There is a sound of
loud groans.

Three hours pass. Marya Petrovna sits by the mother's bedside and
whispers to her. The two women have already had time to make friends,
they have got to know each other, they gossip, they sigh together. . . .

"You mustn't talk," says the midwife anxiously, and at the same
time she showers questions on her.

Then the door opens and Kiryakov himself comes quietly and stolidly
into the room. He sits down in the chair and strokes his whiskers.
Silence reigns. Marya Petrovna looks timidly at his handsome,
passionless, wooden face and waits for him to begin to talk, but
he remains absolutely silent and absorbed in thought. After waiting
in vain, the midwife makes up her mind to begin herself, and utters
a phrase commonly used at confinements.

"Well now, thank God, there is one human being more in the world!"

"Yes, that's agreeable," said Kiryakov, preserving the wooden
expression of his face, "though indeed, on the other hand, to have
more children you must have more money. The baby is not born fed
and clothed."

A guilty expression comes into the mother's face, as though she had
brought a creature into the world without permission or through
idle caprice. Kiryakov gets up with a sigh and walks with solid
dignity out of the room.

"What a man, bless him!" says the midwife to the mother. "He's so
stern and does not smile."

The mother tells her that _he_ is always like that. . . . He is
honest, fair, prudent, sensibly economical, but all that to such
an exceptional degree that simple mortals feel suffocated by it.
His relations have parted from him, the servants will not stay more
than a month; they have no friends; his wife and children are always
on tenterhooks from terror over every step they take. He does not
shout at them nor beat them, his virtues are far more numerous than
his defects, but when he goes out of the house they all feel better,
and more at ease. Why it is so the woman herself cannot say.

"The basins must be properly washed and put away in the store
cupboard," says Kiryakov, coming into the bedroom. "These bottles
must be put away too: they may come in handy."

What he says is very simple and ordinary, but the midwife for some
reason feels flustered. She begins to be afraid of the man and
shudders every time she hears his footsteps. In the morning as she
is preparing to depart she sees Kiryakov's little son, a pale,
close-cropped schoolboy, in the dining-room drinking his tea. . . .
Kiryakov is standing opposite him, saying in his flat, even voice:

"You know how to eat, you must know how to work too. You have just
swallowed a mouthful but have not probably reflected that that
mouthful costs money and money is obtained by work. You must eat
and reflect. . . ."

The midwife looks at the boy's dull face, and it seems to her as
though the very air is heavy, that a little more and the very walls
will fall, unable to endure the crushing presence of the peculiar
man. Beside herself with terror, and by now feeling a violent hatred
for the man, Marya Petrovna gathers up her bundles and hurriedly

Half-way home she remembers that she has forgotten to ask for her
three roubles, but after stopping and thinking for a minute, with
a wave of her hand, she goes on.


MORNING. It is not yet seven o'clock, but Makar Kuzmitch Blyostken's
shop is already open. The barber himself, an unwashed, greasy, but
foppishly dressed youth of three and twenty, is busy clearing up;
there is really nothing to be cleared away, but he is perspiring
with his exertions. In one place he polishes with a rag, in another
he scrapes with his finger or catches a bug and brushes it off the

The barber's shop is small, narrow, and unclean. The log walls are
hung with paper suggestive of a cabman's faded shirt. Between the
two dingy, perspiring windows there is a thin, creaking, rickety
door, above it, green from the damp, a bell which trembles and gives
a sickly ring of itself without provocation. Glance into the
looking-glass which hangs on one of the walls, and it distorts your
countenance in all directions in the most merciless way! The shaving
and haircutting is done before this looking-glass. On the little
table, as greasy and unwashed as Makar Kuzmitch himself, there is
everything: combs, scissors, razors, a ha'porth of wax for the
moustache, a ha'porth of powder, a ha'porth of much watered eau de
Cologne, and indeed the whole barber's shop is not worth more than
fifteen kopecks.

There is a squeaking sound from the invalid bell and an elderly man
in a tanned sheepskin and high felt over-boots walks into the shop.
His head and neck are wrapped in a woman's shawl.

This is Erast Ivanitch Yagodov, Makar Kuzmitch's godfather. At one
time he served as a watchman in the Consistory, now he lives near
the Red Pond and works as a locksmith.

"Makarushka, good-day, dear boy!" he says to Makar Kuzmitch, who
is absorbed in tidying up.

They kiss each other. Yagodov drags his shawl off his head, crosses
himself, and sits down.

"What a long way it is!" he says, sighing and clearing his throat.
"It's no joke! From the Red Pond to the Kaluga gate."

"How are you?"

"In a poor way, my boy. I've had a fever."

"You don't say so! Fever!"

"Yes, I have been in bed a month; I thought I should die. I had
extreme unction. Now my hair's coming out. The doctor says I must
be shaved. He says the hair will grow again strong. And so, I
thought, I'll go to Makar. Better to a relation than to anyone else.
He will do it better and he won't take anything for it. It's rather
far, that's true, but what of it? It's a walk."

"I'll do it with pleasure. Please sit down."

With a scrape of his foot Makar Kuzmitch indicates a chair. Yagodov
sits down and looks at himself in the glass and is apparently pleased
with his reflection: the looking-glass displays a face awry, with
Kalmuck lips, a broad, blunt nose, and eyes in the forehead. Makar
Kuzmitch puts round his client's shoulders a white sheet with yellow
spots on it, and begins snipping with the scissors.

"I'll shave you clean to the skin!" he says.

"To be sure. So that I may look like a Tartar, like a bomb. The
hair will grow all the thicker."

"How's auntie?"

"Pretty middling. The other day she went as midwife to the major's
lady. They gave her a rouble."

"Oh, indeed, a rouble. Hold your ear."

"I am holding it. . . . Mind you don't cut me. Oy, you hurt! You
are pulling my hair."

"That doesn't matter. We can't help that in our work. And how is
Anna Erastovna?"

"My daughter? She is all right, she's skipping about. Last week on
the Wednesday we betrothed her to Sheikin. Why didn't you come?"

The scissors cease snipping. Makar Kuzmitch drops his hands and
asks in a fright:

"Who is betrothed?"


"How's that? To whom?"

"To Sheikin. Prokofy Petrovitch. His aunt's a housekeeper in
Zlatoustensky Lane. She is a nice woman. Naturally we are all
delighted, thank God. The wedding will be in a week. Mind you come;
we will have a good time."

"But how's this, Erast Ivanitch?" says Makar Kuzmitch, pale,
astonished, and shrugging his shoulders. "It's . . . it's utterly
impossible. Why, Anna Erastovna . . . why I . . . why, I cherished
sentiments for her, I had intentions. How could it happen?"

"Why, we just went and betrothed her. He's a good fellow."

Cold drops of perspiration come on the face of Makar Kuzmitch. He
puts the scissors down on the table and begins rubbing his nose
with his fist.

"I had intentions," he says. "It's impossible, Erast Ivanitch. I
. . . I am in love with her and have made her the offer of my heart
. . . . And auntie promised. I have always respected you as though
you were my father. . . . I always cut your hair for nothing. . . .
I have always obliged you, and when my papa died you took the
sofa and ten roubles in cash and have never given them back. Do you

"Remember! of course I do. Only, what sort of a match would you be,
Makar? You are nothing of a match. You've neither money nor position,
your trade's a paltry one."

"And is Sheikin rich?"

"Sheikin is a member of a union. He has a thousand and a half lent
on mortgage. So my boy . . . . It's no good talking about it, the
thing's done. There is no altering it, Makarushka. You must look
out for another bride. . . . The world is not so small. Come, cut
away. Why are you stopping?"

Makar Kuzmitch is silent and remains motionless, then he takes a
handkerchief out of his pocket and begins to cry.

"Come, what is it?" Erast Ivanitch comforts him. "Give over. Fie,
he is blubbering like a woman! You finish my head and then cry.
Take up the scissors!"

Makar Kuzmitch takes up the scissors, stares vacantly at them for
a minute, then drops them again on the table. His hands are shaking.

"I can't," he says. "I can't do it just now. I haven't the strength!
I am a miserable man! And she is miserable! We loved each other,
we had given each other our promise and we have been separated by
unkind people without any pity. Go away, Erast Ivanitch! I can't
bear the sight of you."

"So I'll come to-morrow, Makarushka. You will finish me to-morrow."


"You calm yourself and I will come to you early in the morning."

Erast Ivanitch has half his head shaven to the skin and looks like
a convict. It is awkward to be left with a head like that, but there
is no help for it. He wraps his head in the shawl and walks out of
the barber's shop. Left alone, Makar Kuzmitch sits down and goes
on quietly weeping.

Early next morning Erast Ivanitch comes again.

"What do you want?" Makar Kuzmitch asks him coldly.

"Finish cutting my hair, Makarushka. There is half the head left
to do."

"Kindly give me the money in advance. I won't cut it for nothing."

Without saying a word Erast Ivanitch goes out, and to this day his
hair is long on one side of the head and short on the other. He
regards it as extravagance to pay for having his hair cut and is
waiting for the hair to grow of itself on the shaven side.

He danced at the wedding in that condition.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

"La Mia Sera" (My Evening) by Giovanni Pascoli. English translation, with original Italian text. "La Mia Sera" (My Evening) from the collection "Canti di Castelvecchio" (1903)

Giovanni Pascoli in Castelvecchio, early '900s

The following translation of "La Mia Sera" (My Evening) by Giovanni Pascoli, is from the book "The Poems of Giovanni Pascoli: Translated in English, with Original Italian Text," published by LiteraryJoint Press (2017). Also available as Amazon ebook (Free on Kindle Unlimited!)

My Evening

    The day was filled with lightning;
    yet now the stars will appear,
    the silent stars. In the fields
    a short croak of tree-frogs you hear.
    The twinkling leaves of the poplars,
    a lighthearted  joy passes by.
    Daytime, what lightning! what booms!
    How peaceful, the evening time!

    They must open up the stars
    in such a tender and vivid sky.
    There, by the tree-frogs,
    a river monotonously sighs.
    Of all such dark tumult,
    of all such harsh storm,
    a sweet sob is all that is left
    in the damp evening...

Full text of "La Mia Sera" (My Evening) by Giovanni Pascoli, available on "The Poems of Giovanni Pascoli: Translated in English, with Original Italian Text," published by LiteraryJoint Press (2017). Also available as Amazon ebook (Free on Kindle Unlimited!)

From the collection "Canti di Castelvecchio," by Giovanni Pascoli, 1903.

La mia sera

Il giorno fu pieno di lampi;
ma ora verranno le stelle,
le tacite stelle. Nei campi
c’è un breve gre gre di ranelle.
Le tremule foglie dei pioppi
trascorre una gioia leggiera.
Nel giorno, che lampi! che scoppi!
Che pace, la sera!

Si devono aprire le stelle
nel cielo sì tenero e vivo.
Là, presso le allegre ranelle,
singhiozza monotono un rivo.
Di tutto quel cupo tumulto,
di tutta quell’aspra bufera,
non resta che un dolce singulto
nell’umida sera.

È, quella infinita tempesta,
finita in un rivo canoro.
Dei fulmini fragili restano
cirri di porpora e d’oro.
O stanco dolore, riposa!
La nube nel giorno più nera
fu quella che vedo più rosa
nell’ultima sera.

Che voli di rondini intorno!
che gridi nell’aria serena!
La fame del povero giorno
prolunga la garrula cena.
La parte, sì piccola, i nidi
nel giorno non l’ebbero intera.
Nè io... e che voli, che gridi,
mia limpida sera!

Don... Don... E mi dicono, Dormi!
mi cantano, Dormi! sussurrano,
Dormi! bisbigliano, Dormi!
là, voci di tenebra azzurra...
Mi sembrano canti di culla,
che fanno ch’io torni com’era...
sentivo mia madre... poi nulla...
sul far della sera.

From the collection "Canti di Castelvecchio," by Giovanni Pascoli, 1903.